Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I REALLY THOUGHT I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING





I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. Up until today I’ve posted my thoughts on the books I read and never asked for comments, although I did answer the few I would get. This however is not a post about a book; it is a post about ‘reviewing’ and what a blogger should and shouldn’t do when writing about books.

Two days ago I read a post about Bias when it comes to reviewing. In it the three participants come to the conclusion that in order to be credible, a reviewer should refrain from reviewing books written by people they are friends with. This idea pulled me up short. It is not a possible conflict of interest I’ve ever thought about, but now that it has been brought to my attention I’m left with a few questions I would dearly love an answer to. I posted my questions in a reply to the original post but don’t expect to find my answers there. After all, the post makes it perfectly clear where the author and his collaborators stand. I would like a wider perspective on this issue, which is why I am now turning to you; the people who read my thoughts on the books I read, the authors who know (of) me, and other reviewers.

I could try to summarize the original post here but am reluctant to do that. A summary would not necessarily be an honest representation of the post’s content and might easily be influenced by my personal feelings. I therefore hope you’ll have the time to read the original post before reading my questions and further thoughts below.

The original post can be found here:  A Discussion on Bias.

Below is a copy of my reply:

“I read this post last night and started a long reply before deciding to sleep on it and wait to see what my thoughts and feelings would be in the morning.

Sometimes a good night’s sleep does not provide all the answers.

I’m conflicted about almost everything the three of you have said in the post. Part of me is in complete agreement while another part of me screams that things are not quite that simple.

Allow me to start with a few thoughts/questions that sprang to mind as soon as I read the post:

·         Where do you draw the line? When does interacting with someone online turn into a friendship disqualifying you from reviewing their books?

·         If you’re staying away from reviewing books by a certain author because you are friends with them should you then not go all the way and also shy away from cover reveals, interviews and competitions? Isn’t there a real risk that the followers of your blog would assume that you promoting a book or author also means you endorse that/their work?

·         If you have reviewed and praised (a) book(s) by an author and become ‘friends’ with them at a later date, does that make those earlier reviews suspect?

·         Peer reviews are as old as books are. And while authors in the past didn’t have social media to keep in touch with each other I have no doubt that a lot of them knew each other and communicated in a time appropriate way. Of course in those days the reader had no way of knowing whether or not the reviewing author personally knew the author (s)he was reviewing. Does that not mean things are more rather than less transparent these days? If someone is suspicious about any given review it’s very easy to check the relationship between reviewer and author.

·         Should we not give the people who follow our blogs more credit? Provided we’re honest and consistent they’ll get to know our tastes soon enough and read the reviews accordingly.

On a personal note, I do have two blogs on which I write about books. I do this mostly on my own (I may have bullied the husband into writing a few for me). I don’t and never have referred to my posts as reviews. The headers on both blogs stipulate that I share ‘my thoughts on books’. I don’t claim to be objective, although I try to be.  I write posts for every single book I read, regardless of whether or not I ‘know’ the author. I trust the people who read my posts to get this. I like to think my posts are about the book, the story, the way it is written and whether or not it worked for me and why that was the case. I never questioned what I was doing on those blogs and now I am. Should I write a lengthy disclaimer? Or should I take comfort from the fact that up till now no author or reader has complained about my posts?

Not only does a night’s sleep not bring any answers, neither does writing a way too lengthy reply.”

When I wrote those words I tried to keep in mind that I was replying to someone else’s post rather than writing my own and tried not make it any longer than I felt it needed to be. Now that restriction has been lifted I’d like to add one or two things.

Does the fact that I know and adore Celine Kiernan and hug her every time we meet mean I’m no longer able to be objective about her books? I don’t think so. However would you look at my posts of her wonderful books differently, now that you are aware that I personally know her?

Should I refrain from ever writing about a book by Andrew Nugent again just because he was kind enough to mention my blog in his chapter in ‘Down These Green Streets’? I’ve never met or communicated with this author and as he says in his essay he knows nothing about me.  Still, suspicious minds might distrust anything positive I might have to say about his books in the future.

I don’t like the idea that in order to be able to write about the books I read I should refrain from interacting with the authors who write them. Most if not all authors I interact with, I didn’t get in contact with until after I had read one or more of their books. In fact, chances are I sought them out because their stories impressed or touched me rather than read the books because I happened to ‘know’ them.

It would really help me to know how others feel about this issue. Are the participants in the original discussion right and have I been naive to have never thought about this in the past? Should I change my approach and refrain from posts about authors I personally know?

My blogs started out as a means of keeping track of what I read. I did that on paper long before I even had access to the internet. If the consensus is that my approach is wrong or, worse still, that I could potentially damage an author with my posts, I am tempted to change the settings on my blogs to private and go back to writing those thoughts just for myself again.

10 comments:

Maria said...

I think that it's your blog, and you should be able to share/write whatever you want. I've read your blog off and on for years and your style makes it quite clear you are jotting down a personal journal of what you have read. You aren't trying to write for money (reviews for a newspaper for example where you might have professional obligation or the paper's rules to worry about) and from what I've read, you give your honest opinion.

I review on my blog. MANY times, after I start reviewing a series, I get to know the author online in some capacity. Maybe I ask a question, maybe I link to their blog and suddenly we start a conversation. My blog readers know my reading tastes by now. I don't post reviews of horror even if I know the author (namely because I don't read horror). If anyone ever has a question about whether I know an author, they can certainly ask and they can decide whether I'm somehow biased.

A review is an opinion. When you write yours, you talk about the BOOK--the good, the bad, the parts you noticed. I don't think I've read a review on your site where you're talking about the author. The review isn't about your social interactions, it's about the book.

In short, I don't expect reviewers to hide in a closet and not interact. We love books. We love authors. I don't care if you have them over for lunch on a weekly basis. So long as a review strives to paint an honest picture of your feelings, we are just immersing ourselves in the world of books. Sometimes we are going to "know" the author.

I'm sure some readers want a wall up between reviewers and authors, but that isn't likely to happen in this day and age. Many of them have started charging authors for cover reveals and the like--as if that somehow makes it more honest.

I like books. You like books. We talk books.

leeswammes said...

Without having read the other article (I will, later), my comment is that I agree with Maria: it's your blog, you decide what you post and no one else.

I would not review a book by someone I know quite well as I'm sure it would not be objective - just because I like the person I will like their book more. I have done a few promotions on my blog of books that I've edited but then I don't review them, I just give the blurb and mention that I think it's a great book but I'm not the right person to ask.

I don't see the harm in that! I also 'review' books that I don't finish. So, they're not what you call a traditional review? So what? My blog, my call. :-)

Don't take it too seriously, Marleen!

Marleen said...

Thank you Maria and Judith (Leeswammes). Maybe I did know what I was doing after all.
Seriously though, I'm relieved and glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks it is possible to objectively write about books even when you do know the author. I'd hate to give up either my blog or communicating with authors. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions since it was bothering me.

Maria said...

You know I'm a big proponent of "Live wild and free!" Don't you let anyone else intimidate you or set rules for you. You write good book notes and you're such an avid reader. You should be able to pursue your hobbies and dreams without letting anything hold you back!

Marleen said...

Thank you again, Maria. I should probably print those words out and stick them on the wall to remind myself whenever insecurity threatens to unbalance me.

Jill G. said...

My 2 cents: I don't mind when blog reviewers know the authors they are reviewing--look at Lesa. I trust her reviews even though she seemingly knows every cozy author out there! :-) Your blog is your passion, right? Not a job. You aren't reviewing for money. As long as a blogger mentions that they know an author, I think us readers are astute enough to take into account any implications that may have. Do what you want, it's your blog. There's no right or wrong way! :-)

Marleen said...

Thank you Jill. And yes, everything you wrote is true and exactly what I always thought. I only started doubting myself when I read that other post and saw how vehement they were about the need for a strict separation. When a lot of people approved of their conclusion I felt the need to check. By now I think it's safe to say I'll go on the way I have been doing it for over seven years.

Love Romances and More Reviews said...

Interesting post.

I've been reviewing since 2001 under one name; a published author (under another name) since 2005. Early on I made the decision I would not review a friend's book because I had seen too many "reviews" on Amazon by friends and family that raved about a book that for me was meh. More often than not the books rated highly by friends and family turned out to be pretty poor reads.

When I joined RWA I made the decision not to review anyone who was in my chapter and that expanded to authors with my publisher. The decision was made for the simple reason I did not want my reviews to be considered biased. It's too easy to think "so and so is a friend so rather than hurt the author's feelings he or she said nice things".

Along those lines I also will not beta read a friend's book -- I made that mistake twice. I saw it was a mistake because on both occasions they asked for an honest appraisal -- so I was. What I didn't realize was for them "honest" meant to honestly be their friend and say great things about their writing whether or not it was. Clearly I didn't feel their books measured up to ones I was giving 4-5 star reviews to. I don't do that anymore but refer the to a writer's group.

Lest anyone think I've limited my reading choices -- I haven't. I read 3-4 books a week, review at least two of them and have an ever growing TBR with new authors populating it monthly.

Marleen said...

Thank you so much for your answer, Love Romances... I completely get what you are saying and appreciate why you don't review friends books. It is not impossible that at some point in the future I may have to come to a similar conclusion for similar reasons but I guess I haven't reached that point (yet).

If I read your post right you have made your decision for personal reasons rather than as a result of 'universal' truth or unwritten rule. And I guess that's what it was all about for me when it comes down to it.

I also wonder if you do or do not review books by people you 'only' know through interaction on sites like Facebook or if you have a cut off point where you feel you are getting too close to them to continue reviewing them.

Love Romances and More Reviews said...

Yes, it was a personal decision. On Facebook I have, I guess the best way to put it, two kinds of "friends." There are people I interact with regularly and those that occasionally I'll comment with. The ones I chat with regularly, no, I don't review their books. I don't want to give the appearance that someone would say that I said something nice because we're friends.